50 Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

50 Tips for Backpacking Southeast Asia

We’ve gone through many rounds of trial and error while traveling, especially during the time we spent in SE Asia. If you’re headed to this part of the world, check out our top 50 take aways from five months in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and the Philippines.

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16 of Our Favorite Hostels in Southeast Asia

16 of Our Favorite Hostels in Southeast Asia

There are definitely some universals you can expect from all hostels: dorm beds, community kitchens, the inevitable person who snores, the late nights and early mornings as people catch their budget travel in and out. But there are some places that just do it better than the rest. Here are our top 16 places from our five month experience of living the hostel life in southeast Asia.

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Kicking Back in Pai

Ahh, Pai. What is NOT to like about Pai? That's my question. 


Just a few hours, and a couple hundred turns, north of Chiang Mai, this mountain paradise was recommended to us from everyone we met who’d traveled across Thailand. It was usually referred to as “the place where you get stuck” or “the stoner’s paradise.” Everyone who mentioned it told us it was their favorite place in Thailand. 

Pai is full of amazing coffee shops - this one was right next to our hostel.

Pai is full of amazing coffee shops - this one was right next to our hostel.

Right they were. 

Not only is Pai absolutely beautiful, but it’s become a haven for travelers and expats alike who’re looking for a more laidback place to set up shop for a while. With a stunning natural backdrop, plenty of daytime adventures to take, and seemingly endless restaurants and bars, Pai is an easy paradise. 

I have to be fully honest, Anna and I spent 5D/4N in Pai doing nearly nothing. It was fantastic, we regret nothing. That was all we wanted to do after what felt like forever of constant go-go. We put our feet up and said NOPE to everything other than food, the night market, and a few solid nights out with some German friends we met at our hostel. 

So, without further ado, here’s a solid list of things I can personally recommend and the things my less lazy friends recommended to me.

How to Get to Pai


Simple enough. You’re probably getting into Pai from Chiang Mai, which is the largest city in northern Thailand. You can hop a bus from Arcade Bus station, purchase tickets from just about any accommodation or tour center, and you’re set. They run about 5x per day and take roughly four hours. 

WARNING: This road is turns on turns on turns. 762 of them to be exact. If you get motion or car sick, dramamine is a great idea. 

You can also fly to Pai from Chiang Mai. Seems a bit like overkill to me since they’re so close but if you’re looking to go straight through the airport that is an option. 

Your last option is to motorbike. This is probably the best way to see the drive if you’re comfortable on a bike. It is also the most dangerous due to weather, the roads, and other drivers. Please only do this is you’re comfortable on a bike and WEAR A HELMET! So many people get into accidents on this road and you don’t want to cut your trip to Pai short before you even get up there. 

Where to Stay in Pai

These are all hostels, though I’m sure Pai has some beautiful, slightly pricier options if that’s what you’re looking for. I recommend checking Trip Advisor!

Jikko Harem

This was where we stayed. It’s located slightly off the Pai’s main area, but the wonderful staff who run the place will give you a lift into town whenever you want. It’s beautiful, clean, quiet, and the hostel chain owns two bars in town that you’ll get awesome discounts at. We were going to stay for two nights before switching to Common Grounds and just never did. Highly recommend.

Hostelworld Link

P.S. I think now they have a more central location, though we never saw it. 

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Common Grounds

Probably the most popular hostel in Pai, Common Grounds is the place to stay if you want to be right next to the action and get your party on every night. Definitely a bit pricier than some of your other options, but that comes with demand.

Hostelworld Link

Green Hostel & Skatepark

The other hostel we looked at. Looks beautiful and has fantastic reviews as well as a skatepark attached.

Hostelworld Link

Where to Eat in Pai

This is a toughie because where do I begin? You’ve got so, so many fantastic options in Pai, especially if you’re vegan/vegetarian. Without going into too much detail, here’s a solid list of where we went/where we were sent:

  • Earthtone Vegetarian Cafe**

  • Ganesh

  • Cafecito (Mexican)**

  • Om Garden Cafe

  • FatCat

  • Oasis Bar & Restaurant 

  • Pen’s Kitchen

Breakfast at Cafecito.

Breakfast at Cafecito.

Where to Party in Pai

Let’s level here: if you’re headed to Pai it’s fair to assume that you’re looking to party, to smoke, to get a little twisted. 

If you’re looking to drink, there are endless options for you. Here are some we checked out and heard about:

  • C Bar**

  • Jikko Bar

  • Yellow Sun

  • Boom Bar

  • Why Not?**


If you’re looking for a little something more, there are two places you can go: Sunset Bar and Paradise Bar. We went to both to check them out, they’ve definitely got a lot of hype, and preferred the atmosphere at Paradise but the drinks at Sunset.

Warning: drugs are illegal in Thailand and you can 100 percent be prosecuted for purchasing/consuming them, regardless of how many people do it or whether or not a place is “chill” about it. In Pai, specifically, police raid the main drag and are stationed both near the bridge leading to Sunset/Paradise at night and at tourist hotspots like the Grand Canyon. They can and will search you if they suspect you!

Adventures in Pai

Heading to Pai to explore some of the natural beauties in the area? You’ve got plenty of options!

The trickiest element is getting from one or the other. The easiest way to zip around Pai is by motorbike. You can easy rent these in town or just ride yours around if you drove up on one. Your other option is a rental car, taxi, a tuk-tuk, or a tour, depending on what you’re trying to do. 

Some of your options for scooter rentals.

Some of your options for scooter rentals.


Some of Pai’s natural highlights include:

  • Pai Canyon (go for sunset)

  • Pai Hot Springs

  • Pam Bok or Mor Paeng Waterfall

  • Pai Piranha Fishing Park

  • Boon Ko Ku So Bridge


Night Market

Looking for something to do in the city? Explore Pai’s fantastic night market! You’ll find wonderful street food and tons of crafts, jewelry, and clothing lining the main walking street in Pai each night. 

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Best of Vietnam

A breakdown of our favorite places to explore, things to do, and experiences to splurge on in Vietnam.

Best Experiences to Do for Free (or very cheaply)

War Remnants Museum (Saigon)

Wander around the night markets

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Explore the Old Town of Hoi An

Rent bikes or scooters and wander around (Tam Coc)

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Hike 450 stairs up Hang Mua, a.k.a. Lying Dragon Mountain (Tam Coc)

River tour (Tam Coc)

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Wander around the Old Town of Hanoi

Explore the lakes around Hanoi

Try egg drop coffee (Hanoi)

Rent a swan boat on the lake (Hanoi)

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Train Street (Hanoi)

 

Best Experiences to Splurge On

Cu Chi Tunnels (Saigon)

Canyoning and jungle trekking (Dalat)

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Tailoring clothes (Hoi An)

Oxalis Tour in Phong Nha National Park

Kayaking tour in Phong Nha Cave

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Ha Long Bay cruise

Bar crawl (Hanoi)

Motorcycle road trip (Ha Giang Loop)

 

Best Instagram-Worthy Spots

Canyoning in Dalat (the tours take the photos for you!)

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Old Town lanterns in Hoi An

Anywhere in the jungles of Phong Nha National Park

The top of Hang Mua in Tam Coc

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Landscapes of the Ha Giang province 

Bikini pics in Ha Long Bay

 

Best Restaurants & Bars

Secret Garden Restaurant (Saigon)

Pho Hoa - The Family Dynasty One (Saigon)

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Broma Not a Bar (Saigon)

The Gin House (Saigon)

Whiskey & Wares (Saigon)

The Maze Bar (Dalat)

The BBQ place in Dalat, ask someone at Wolfpack Hostel, they’ll know

Either of the Morning Glory restaurants, they also offer cooking classes! (Hoi An)

**DO NOT MISS** Banh Mi Queen (Hoi An)

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Jim’s Snackbar (Hoi An)

Mr Bean Bar (Hoi An)

Bamboo Cafe (Phong Nha)

Paradise Pizza (Phong Nha)

Andy’s Bar and Restaurant (Phong Nha)

Oasis Bar (Cat Ba Island)

Pasteur Street Brewing Co. (Saigon & Hanoi)

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Bit Tet Chim Quay (pop up restaurant, corner of Hang Buom and Hang Giay)

The Alchemist (Hanoi)

Mojito Bar (Hanoi)

Polite and Co. (Hanoi)

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The Mad Botanist (Hanoi)

 

Best Places to Stay on a Budget

Bui Vien Hostel (Saigon)

Wolfpack Hosel (Dalat)

Hoa Binh (Hoi An)

Trang An River Homestay (Tam Coc)

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Catba Central Hostel (Cat Ba Island)

Babylon Garden Inn Hostel (Hanoi)

 

Things We Didn’t Get To, but Wish We Did

Sapa terraces

Chu Chi Tunnels

Mekong Delta

Phu Quoc, Nha Trang, and other southern islands

Bangkok

Any traveller who’s ever visited Thailand has probably made their way through Bangkok at some point, and they all have something different to say about it. In fact, there are few cities we’ve been to that inspire more love/hate reactions than Thailand’s capital.

Home to nearly 8.3 million people, this gigantic city has no shortage of new experiences and things to do. In fact, there’s so much to Bangkok that it’s almost daunting to try and plan out what you want to do here. Personally, I think this, and Khao San Road, are the main reasons some people claim to “hate” this city. 

BUT, don’t knock it till you try it, no matter what anyone says. There are many, many amazing things to do in Bangkok. We spent a little less than a week exploring the city and had a blast. Here’s a breakdown of some of our highlights.

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Experiences in Bangkok

Chatuchak Weekend Market

Over 400,000 visitors hop on the metro to Chatuchak Park each weekend in order to browse the 15,000 stalls of Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in all of Thailand. You can get lost for hours, like we did, among the thousands of visitors and vendors haggling over Nepalese gemstone bags, delicate silver jewelry, and ornate wooden carvings. Anything you could hope to shop for, there’s probably 6 of, so take the day (or, hell, the whole weekend) and get ready to drop some dollars at this fabulous market.

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Ladyboy Show

Something that we unfortunately didn’t get to, ladyboy shows are frequently labeled a “must do” attraction of Bangkok, so they have be included as our “coulda, woulda, shoulda, but didn’t.” The most popular is called Calypso, and you can catch this eye-popping performance twice every day, so there’s plenty of opportunity. 

 

Wat Phra Kaew (Reclining Buddha)

If you’re looking to explore one of the more cultural attractions of Bangkok and don’t feeling like shelling out for the Grand Palace (aka, if you’re just like us), this is a great alternative. Much cheaper, less crowded, and with plenty of temple views and photo ops for you rising instagram stars. Despite being near impossible to photograph, the reclining buddha in this temple is incredible, and regardless of whether or not you hit up the Grand Palace, this temple is absolutely worth a visit. 

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Floating Markets of Bangkok

Another thing we opted out of, Bangkok is famous for its floating markets. While they’re a bit pricy to go see, you either splurge for a tour or catch a cab out of the city and hire a boat, there’s no doubt that it’s a sight to see. There are five floating markets outside of Bangkok, the most famous of which is Damnoen Saduak. We decided it was a bit too pricy for us, but many would argue the getting to witness the hundreds of boats floating up and down the river laden with fresh fruits, vegetables, and other goodies make it well worth the money.

 

Unicorn Cafe

Another one for the instagrammers out there. Unicorn Cafe has gone viral for the simple reason that suddenly everyone is obsessed with unicorns (the internet is a weird place). That being said, it’s a fun place to check out and a great place to take some pictures. Go early, it gets very crowded very fast. The food is all rainbow, a little weird but, hey, that’s the theme. We weren’t all that hungry for rainbow pasta, but the crepe cake was awesome! Must love sugar. 

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Where to Stay

Hint: not Khao San Road. 

We met a lot of backpackers who warned us off Bangkok and the majority of them (major shocker here) stayed on or near Khao San Road, the famous backpacker street in city. It is crowded, dirty, and full of absolutely wasted travelers by 9:30pm most nights. Even if you’re looking to party in Bangkok, we wouldn’t recommend you stay there because not only are there other places to party but its also pretty far away from the metro, which is the best way to get around.

We stayed in an area called Sukhumvit and loved it. It’s known as a party central, with major clubs and bars all within walking distance of the metro stop. We stayed at a hostel called 1SABAI and it was great, if quiet. It was right next to Slumber Party Backpackers, which has numerous hostels throughout Thailand and is definitely where the party’s at. 

Either is a great stay, depends how much you want to sleep each night, and they’re both a quick 10 minute walk to the metro that will take you almost anywhere you want to go. Definitely recommend staying in this area. Less touristy, plenty to do, great food, easy access to metro…what’s not to love?

 

Where to Eat & Sip on Some Coffee

There's no shortage of amazing restaurants, cafes, bars, and cheap food options in Bangkok and I don't know how one could create a "complete" list, but here's a couple of highlights from our personal food tour in Bangkok.

Simple Natural Kitchen: We are slightly addicted to brunch, and this place had an epic one. We ordered shakshouka and avocado toast and it was great. Definitely recommend.

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Wonderwall: We parked it at this coffee shop for a couple of hours to get some work done. Can't argue with great coffee and a chill atmosphere.

25 Degrees: Looking for a great burger in Bangkok? 25 Degrees has got you covered. It also have a fantastic happy hour and is a great place to stop after a long day of touring some of the Bangkok's more famous attractions.

Not Just Another Cup: We so badly wanted to make it here (again, addicted to brunch) but we didn't realize until too late that you'll need a reservation to sit down. Don't be like us. Reserve and enjoy.

Iwane 1975: We ate here maybe 2-3 times while we were in Bangkok. Easy walking distance from the metro station in Sukhumvit, about halfway between our hostel and the station, this place has an amazing brunch/lunch (we have a problem) and absolutely everything we ordered was delicious. I'd recommend one thing in particular but it's just all great. Take yourself here and thank me later. 

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Terminal 21 Mall: Much like Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Bangkok has some fantastic malls. We spent tons of time in Terminal 21 because it was so close, has amazing destination themed floors (go to Tokyo!), and has a fantastic food court. You've got plenty of options and it's an easy and typically cheaper option than restaurants every night. 

Where to Party

Hint: not Khao San Road.

I’m not just hating here. The government and police force in Bangkok have imposed a strict midnight curfew and even conduct raids along Khao San Road in an effort to curb the wild partying in Bangkok. Other bars and clubs are also being affected by this curfew, but Khao San Road has been hit the hardest and if you go on a weekend night you’ll see the streets packed with drunk partiers by 11:30pm as the bars begin to close down.

It. Is. Not. Fun.

Some alternatives? The club scene around Sukhumvit is good, but not easy on the wallet. You’ll pay to get in and then you’ll pay double for drinks.

If you’re looking to go clubbing, and you’re in the Sukhumvit area, go check out Slumber Party Backpackers. Ask them where is best to go on any particular night OR make it even easier on yourself and join them when they hit the clubs. The night we went with them we hit Route66 Club and they went on to Onyx Club, which we opted out of. They host solid pregames every night and it’s a great way to meet fellow backpackers in such a big city. 

Sukhumvit Road is also an option, especially the Red Light District around Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboys. GENTLEMEN, watch your wallets, these ladies know what they’re doing and they’re probably not just interested in your face (though I’m sure it’s great).

Rooftop bars! There are TONS of rooftop bars in Bangkok and they are a great time. We only hit one while we were there, Sky on 20, and loved it. Shop around a bit and see which one suits your fancy, but chances are you won’t go wrong with a fantastic view and a fancy cocktail. 

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Another alternative is take you and your gang on a self guided bar crawl! We did this one night and had a blast just walking around and checking out any fun bar or brewery we could find. Our favorites that we found were CRAFT, a fun outdoor brewery venue with beer flights and good old American rock tunes, and Iron Fairies.

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Iron Fairies is dope. I have a thing for absinthe bars and this one was absolute magic. The decor is dark and suits the name. The live band is very talented and, though they’re a bit pricy, the drinks are great. We didn’t try the food, but heard great things about that as well. Even if it’s just for one drink, it’s a quirky and fun place to check out.

 

How to Get Around Bangkok

Metro, metro, metro (and walking)! If you can avoid Tuk Tuks and Grabs in this city then absolutely do, they can get pricy and the traffic is AWFUL at peak times. The metro is easy to use and cheap, definitely the best way to explore the city and surrounding areas. Whenever we hit a place that the metro couldn’t take us, we got as close as we could and walked. 

There’s also a great Sky Train in Bangkok, which we used to get to the Unicorn Cafe. There’s a stop for it in Sukhumvit as well if you’re staying there! More expensive, but worth taking at least one trip on. 

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Bangkok is a vibrant, chaotic, and diverse city that easy to get lost in, literally and metaphorically. Give yourself the time to explore it a bit and don’t listen to the haters - this city’s got a great time waiting for those who seek it. 

Koh Lanta: The Peaceful Alternative to Koh Phi Phi

After experiencing both Koh Phi Phi and Koh Lanta, I came up with a loving analogy to compare the two. 

If Koh Phi Phi is a first semester freshman in college who’s never left home and is finally turned loose on the world of partying, then Koh Lanta is the super senior who’s taking the bare minimum number of classes and spending most of the time stoned on the couch.

If you’ve gone to college, you probably get what I’m saying.

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Koh Lanta is bigger, less crowded, and unbelievably chill compared to Koh Phi Phi. To be honest, one of the best things to do in Koh Lanta is nothing, which me and my two companions did plenty of. Also eating, which I recommend you do at Secret Garden. I think we went there four times in three days (the crepes...).

When we weren’t doing nothing, we explored the area around our hostel on foot and around the island by scooter. We stayed at an amazing hostel called Loro Loco, which had incredibly friendly staff and an amazing pool/lounge area. It was also right on Long Beach, the main beach on Koh Lanta, which is lined with fun, colorful sunset bars.
*Note: If you're looking for a bit more of a luxurious stay on island, ASALANTA has amazing reviews and would be well worth checking out!

Needless to say, we spent every sunset and evening on the beach with a couple of beers and as much fresh fruit as we could carry.

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Renting a scooter on Koh Lanta is very cheap, only about three US dollars a day.

There's a number of places you can explore on Koh Lanta via scooter. There's Mu Koh Lanta National Park, Mai Kaew Cave, Koh Lanta Old Town, Khlong Chak Waterfall, and countless stunning beaches, including Phra Ae Beach and Bamboo Beach. If you're looking to stack your day full of activities and places to explore, there's no shortage of options.
*Note: We heard from a couple of people that the entrance fee to the National Park isn't worth it, which is why we didn't go there, but if you're still interested it's worth noting that there is in fact an entrance fee of 200B per person.

If you're in Koh Lanta for a little longer, there's also plenty to do just off the island. There's diving, sunset cruises, and a day trip to Morakot Cave. Also known as the Emerald Cave, this stunning cave is on a tiny island just off of Koh Lanta and is well worth a visit. We didn't have enough time when we were there, but if I were to go back that would absolutely be on the top of my to do list.

What we DID do is rent two scooters for the three of us to explore the perimeter of the island for an afternoon. We opted for a more casual exploration and just stuck to aimlessly driving around and seeing the landscape before parking it on a deserted beach with a couple of fresh coconuts for a few hours. If you're enjoying a more low key day or trip, you can't go wrong with this.

Whether you want to go full explorer or have a chill day meandering around the island, you've got plenty of choices.

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On a side note, this would be an amazing place to practice riding a scooter, due to the low traffic and wide, paved roads all over the island. So if you’re looking for a place to gain confidence before embarking on a 3-month Vietnamese bike tour… I’ll say no more, you know who you are.

If you’ve been traveling for a while and are looking for a break or if you’re simply in need of a quick detox from the craziness of Koh Phi Phi or the Full Moon Party, look no further than Koh Lanta. This is the perfect place to put up your feet, string up your hammock, and read a few chapters of that book you picked up two months ago but haven’t opened yet.

The Best of Penang, Malaysia

To date I have yet to find another city in Asia that I love as much as Penang, Malaysia. This island state is just off the northwest corner of the country and accessible by bus, ferry, or plane. 

 

George Town

The highlight of Penang is George Town, the capital of Penang and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is city is unbelievably colorful and has a fascinating mix of British colonial buildings, vibrant street art, as well as Chinese and Islamic influences. We spent whole days doing nothing but wandering the streets and taking in the views, it is absolutely stunning. 

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One of the first things you can do is take a coach (or a hike, if you’re into that) up to Penang Hill to get an amazing overview of the city. We didn’t get a chance to do this, but from what we heard it’s well worth the trek up, no matter how you make it!

If you’re interested in a self-guided tour of the city, here are a couple of suggestions. The street art in Penang is famous, and for a good reason. The city-commissioned art is painted all over the city’s walls and is definitely worth seeking out. A good place to start is the Upside Down Museum and then walk in towards Little India (a conveniently great place to stop for lunch). 

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After visiting the street art, walk yourself towards The Blue Mansion, an amazing building that you can either take in from the street or catch a tour around the inside at either 11:00am, 2:00pm and 3:30pm. After touring this area, catch the sunset on the water down by the old town jetties (this wouldn’t be a bad time for a sundowner).

Looking to try some delicious & traditional Malaysian food while you’re here? Check out Tek Sen, a low key, family-owned place that’s well worth the seeking out. Absolutely try the homemade tofu and the pork belly - it’s unbelievable!

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Looking to go out? If you’re looking to stay and play at the same place, look no further than Tipsy Tiger Party Hostel. This is where we stayed and it was an absolute blast. This is NOT your place if you’re looking for a good night sleep. But if you’re looking to meet people over some cheap drinks and to play a couple of bar games, this is the place to start your night. Plus, the hostel staff will take you on a bar crawl after the place shuts down between 11:30pm and midnight.

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PS: late night kebabs or noodles are always a good idea

PPS: at Tipsy Tiger, body shots are free ;) just watch out for their photographer…

 

Taman Negara AKA Penang National Park

Pack up your sunblock and a swimsuit and don’t miss out on Taman Negara Pulau Pinang. This national park stretches along 3,100-acres of the northwest corner of Penang and is easy to get to from George Town either by bus or cab. 

Hire a longtail boat to take you to Turtle Beach and Monkey Beach, where you can laze on the sand or in the water and order an ice cold coconut from one of the colorful beachside shacks. The boat one-way costs roughly 40 ringgit per person, but you can negotiate for a return trip if you don’t feel like taking the 2ish mile hike back.

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Penang is sensational. Enjoy George Town, eat until you hate yourself, hit the bars at night, and take a day to enjoy the picturesque national park. While you’re there, don’t forget to catch a ferry to Langkawi, an adventure in and of itself. 

Best of Singapore

Singapore is the shiny, expensive, diamond in the rough of Southeast Asia. Notorious for its clean streets and safe, diverse neighborhoods, Singapore is consistently credited as one of the best cities in the world. This electrifying metropolis is an incredible example of urban planning and eco-design at its finest.

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The massive Changi Airport has countless flights connecting to pretty much everywhere, making Singapore a great last stop to blow your leftover dollars before heading home! Pro tip: Singapore’s impressive airport not only boasts a full size shopping mall for killing time, but if your layover is over 8 hours in duration, you’re eligible for a free tour of the city!

If you're looking for a budget friendly Singaporean experience, base yourself out of Chinatown! Everything is cheap, and it's only a short metro ride away from the Marina Bay area if you still want to have a wander around the luxurious landscape. The route along the Singapore River towards the Marina Bay is lined with beautiful parks and sculptures. Well worth the walk! 

Gardens by the Bay

Absolutely no trip to Singapore is complete without venturing down to Gardens by the Bay. Made up of the famous vertical gardens, the Flower Dome, and the Cloud Forest, you’ll catch your breath as you marvel at what Singapore has built.

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The vertical gardens, known as the Supertree Garden, are impossible to miss as your approach Gardens by the Bay. They tower over the surrounding area, ranging between 25 and 50 meters (82 and 160 feet for our fellow Americans). There’s a chance you may have already heard of them; they were featured in BBC’s Planet Earth Season 2 in the episode “Cities.”

While these trees are stunning during the day, be sure to catch a ride down to see them at night. They glow an eerie blue or light up with a dazzling display or neon colors.

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The Flower Dome and Cloud Forest are the other two main attractions at Gardens by the Bay. Our favorite, by far, was the Cloud Forest, which is designed to mimic actual cloud forests found in places like Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands or Costa Rica. 

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The enormous glass dome is an explosion of cool, tropical jungle plants. Take in the impressive indoor waterfall just as you walk in and take the elevator up to explore what’s called “Lost World.” This walkway will take you down in a spiral so that you can admire the indoor jungle from all heights and angles. It truly feels like a lost world - we spent over an hour alone in the Cloud Forest.

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The Flower Dome is also beautiful, though we would’ve skipped it if we hadn’t been obligated to pay for admission to both (locals get to pick one, foreigners must pay a double entrance ticket). That being said, the Flower Dome is bursting with color and flora from all around the world. Give yourself at least 30-45 minutes to embrace the flower power - you paid for it anyways!

The Infinity Pool at the Marina Bay Sands

Perhaps one of the most iconic hotels in the world, the Marina Bay Sands and its unbelievable infinity pool tower over Singapore. While a two-night stay here was the definition of treat yo-self, we couldn’t resist getting our crew of six up to the pool for a dip and the best view in the city. 

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The hotel feels more like a small city than a room for a night. With three towers, bars, a club, cafes, and walkway to the enormous Marina Bay Shopping Mall, you can spend your whole vacation in this complex. The highlight, however, is the world’s largest infinity pool on the 57th floor.

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When people say security is strict, they mean it. You need a key card to get up to the top floor and past the guard into the pool area. You also need to swipe in and out and there is someone posted at each entrance. It is NO joke. Courtesy of so many people trying to sneak in, security is very intense.

If you have at least one or two key cards, then all you have to do is take turns going up to use the pool. No one checks to see if you’re actually a guest if you have one. This is what we did to get all six of us up in turns. 

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Once you get up, it truly is worth the view. Of course, everyone wants that amazing picture (including us), and it’s worth it to be patient and get that shot. That being said, if you get up to that pool, take the time to float and enjoy the view, which truly is something spectacular.

ArtScience Museum

This lotus shaped architectural masterpiece of a museum is actually part of the Marina Bay Sands development, only a 5-minute walk from the main boardwalk outside the mall. The sun-soaked galleries “explore creative processes at the heart of art, science, technology and culture, and their roles in shaping society.”

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Check out their ongoing exhibitions for some inspiration and plan to spend at least one lazy afternoon wandering the interactive exhibits. Somewhere among the Titanic artifacts, Andy Warhol specials, or even Harry Potter wonderments, you’re sure to find an exhibit to get lost in.

Gilman Barracks

If you’re still itching to dive deeper into the art scene, make a trip to the southern end of the island and wander around the Gilman Barracks. This military base gone art hub is an awesome playground to get a feel for the young, lively art vibe in Singapore. There are tons of buildings to explore - from internationally renowned exhibitions to local artists’ galleries, the energy of Southeast Asian art is oozing from the barrack seams. 

Check out their schedule for special events or temporary installations! We spent our Friday night hopping around an opening night concert for Singapore Art Week - flashing LED headphones included.

Chinatown

Looking for somewhere to eat and stay in Singapore that won’t break the bank? Look no further than the city’s thriving Chinatown. With its central location, endless foodie options, and bustling markets, you can’t miss this vibrant corner of the city-state. 

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Take a stroll through the night or early morning market and try a dish you’ve never heard of before (if you dare). Check yourself into one of the many affordable hostels or hotels in the area. Everything you could possibly want/need is right outside your door.

When in Chinatown, don’t miss out on the world’s cheapest Michelin-star meal: Singapore’s Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & noodle. There may be a line - but it’s worth the wait!

Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle

Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle

 

Dine in the Dark

One of the coolest experiences we had in Singapore was undoubtedly our ladies night at Nox: Dine in the Dark. 

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We made a reservation at Nox off a recommendation from a friend who claimed this was her favorite thing she did in Singapore. A secret three-course meal, 12 dishes in total, all in eaten in total darkness. While the concept isn’t unique to Singapore, it was to us and we loved it.

So, how does it work? After showing up, you enter the restaurant’s downstairs bar where you order a cocktail and let the staff know if there’s anything you can’t/don’t eat. Don’t forget to mention that deadly peanut allergy, but be as adventurous as you can - it makes it more fun!

You’re then led upstairs into a pitch black room. I mean you can’t see A THING. It’s a weird experience at first, but one you quickly get used to. Your waiter will introduce themselves and then you’re off on your culinary adventure! Fun fact, all the waiters who work at Nox are blind and seamlessly navigate the room with 30+ tables.

Textures, smells, and tastes will take on a whole new meaning in this experience. One of the best parts is simply trying to guess at what you’re eating. They don’t keep you in suspense forever though. At the end of your meal you’ll get to take your guess and see just how close you got when they reveal everything you’ve tried. 

If you’re a foodie, need a clever date night idea, or are just looking to try something different - definitely give Dine in the Dark a try. It was delicious! 

PS: We definitely recommend taking the wine pairing with the meal, because everything is better with wine.

Other Digs in Singapore

  • Any street food in Chinatown - pick a stall and take a seat! Look for somewhere crowded, it's always a good sign...

  • Central Perk Cafe - the only copyright-approved Friends-themed cafe in Asia!

  • Hit up Clarke Quay for all-nighter bars and clubs.

  • McGettigan's CQ - of course we scoped out the best burger joint in the city.

  • Hawker Chan - the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world.

  • 28 Speakeasy - a completely unmarked bar, you might only be able to find it if you keep your eye out for some kiddos smoking some cigs on Hong Kong Street.

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More Pictures!

How to Backpack the Best Two Months in New Zealand

It's impossible to see the best of any country in just two months, but here's a breakdown of how we did it:

 

Car Camping

There are lots of ways to get around New Zealand, but we decided a rental car would be the best way for us to see some of the more remote attractions. Simply put: it's the easiest way to do it. We each had a 70L backpack to fill with out essentials. Check out their contents here!

Bringing trustworthy camping gear will take your trip to the next level. New Zealand is decked out with TONS of campgrounds in the most stunning landscapes you'll come across. It's well worth the extra few pounds to be able to pitch a tent at the base of Mount Cook.

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Best Things We Brought

Camping gear to sleep under the stars.

Small luggage locks to secure our belongings in hostel lockers - they provide the safes, but you'll have to rent a lock if you don't bring your own!

Tarp/sitting blanket for a quick picnic. Doubles as a groundcloth for your tent!

Rain jacket because rain.

Hiking boots so you can climb those peaks.

External battery pack for your electronics, especially while camping.

Solar lanterns for easy lighting anywhere!

Fixed wide angle lens for landscape photography - MJ's personal favorite.

Mini bluetooth speaker to broadcast your tunes in the hostel kitchens.

Navigation app (maps.me) to get around the country. You'll thank us later.

Camping app (CamperMate) to find the best campgrounds that fit your budget.

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Best Things to Do for Free

Hiking Nelson Lakes

Stargazing in the Makenzie Dark Sky Reserve

Swimming in the Blue Pools

Drive up to the Remarkables Ski Area

Coromandel's Hot Water Beach + Cathedral Cove

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Best Experiences to Splurge On

*Renting a car!!!!!!! (JUCY)

Marlborough Wine Tour

Banquet Tour at Hobbiton (for all those hungry hobbits out there)

Marine mammal tours in Kaikoura

Cruise in the Fiordland National Park

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Best Instagram-Worthy Spots

Ocean murals of Napier

East Coast Highway of the North Island

Castle Hill (a.k.a. Weathertop)

The Mermaid Pools in Matapouri

Wai-O-Tapu geothermal area

Key Summit Alpine Loops in the Fiordlands

#LoveTaupo

Paradise Road

Farmlands of Southern Waikato

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Best Cities to Hit

Queenstown

Wellington

Napier

Wanaka

Kaikoura

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Best Restaurants & Bars

Kaiaua Fisheries in Kaiaua

Emporium Bar & Eatery in Napier

Rata in Queenstown

Capital Nomads Bar in Wellington

Fitzpatrick’s Irish Pub in Wanaka

Lakefront pub place in Wanaka 

Cowboy’s in Queenstown

Surreal in Queenstown

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Best Hostels

Crash Palace in Rotorua

Bad Jelly Backpackers in Kaikoura

Tailor-Made Backpackers in Tekapo

BASE Hostels in Wanaka and Queenstown

On the Beach Backpackers in Hahei

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Things We Didn’t Get To, but Wish We Did

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Lake Wharakemoana

West Coast of the South Island

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

Routeburn Track (Key Summit Trail was a great substitute though!)

Another night in Wellington

Skydiving above the Remarkables

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Things to Remember in New Zealand

Drive on the left side of the road!!!!!

It’s not customary to tip, but 10% is appreciated for exceptional service.

Leave No Trace. Our wild lands are worth protecting.

You probably won't see a kiwi, but give it a shot!

Always ask DOC officers for recommendations, but take it with a grain of salt. KNOW YOUR OWN CAPABILITIES!!!!!!
Book huts and campsites way in advance during peak season - everyone else knows how beautiful it is too!!!!

Be prepared for weather that’s worse than you anticipate. Always.

 

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